Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Since 2015, Fentanyl has killed more soldiers than combat

How many soldiers have died from fentanyl, a lethal synthetic opioid? Fentanyl abuse has hit the Army the hardest among military branches and caused a record number of fatal overdoses among soldiers in 2021, the last complete year of data available, according to new figures obtained by The Washington Post.

The emerging scope of drug abuse in the military has alarmed lawmakers, who in late May introduced a bill to compel the Pentagon to publicly release overdose data each year, as well improve treatment for personnel suffering from addiction. The proposed legislation comes as experts say the services have done a poor job tracking overdoses, which have increased among active duty troops in the last two years. And many families contend that preventive measures, including urinalysis tests and rehabilitation, fall short.

Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and five other lawmakers who introduced the bill pointed to rising overdose deaths at Fort Liberty, N.C., and other Army posts, warning that “hundreds of service members have lost their lives to overdose and thousands more nearly did.” Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), a veteran who signed onto the bill, called the overdoses across the entire military “an institutional failure and a threat to our national defense.”

The lack of clear data is further complicated by the emergence of fentanyl, which poses an especially acute threat because of its deadly potency and its tendency to be blended with other drugs or disguised as prescription pills.

The Army lost 127 soldiers to fentanyl between 2015 and 2022, according to casualty records obtained by The Post through the Freedom of Information Act. That’s more than double the number of Army personnel killed in combat in Afghanistan during that same period.

At least 27 soldiers died from fentanyl in 2021, the Army’s deadliest year yet. But in February, when asked by senators for statistics on fentanyl overdoses, Pentagon officials reported a number that was half of the figure contained in the records obtained by The Post. When asked about the discrepancy, Pentagon spokeswoman Jade Fulce blamed an accounting mistake.

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